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Martin County passes an interim budget

By Staff
Faces a $1.5 million gap without relief
By EUGENE L. TINKLEPAUGH
Staff Writer
WILLIAMSTON — Martin County commissioners, during their meeting Wednesday night, adopted an interim budget for its 2007-2008 fiscal year.
The interim spending plan freezes all spending at current levels.
Commissioners approved having the temporary budget in effect until the state adopts its budget. The commissioners will meet at 5 p.m. Saturday to further discuss the county’s budget, according to a notice sent by the county to the Daily News on Thursday afternoon.
Martin County Manager Russell Overman drafted a proposed budget for fiscal year 2007-2008 that depends upon Medicaid relief proposed by state House budget makers.
In a separate interview following Wednesday’s called meeting, Overman said that a month ago he “felt good about that” budget proposal. The House was calling for statewide Medicaid relief in the amount of $100 million for counties.
Martin County, Overman said, would realize a savings of $1.1 million if that House proposal becomes part of the state’s next budget.
Currently, the county pays $2.4 million as its share of the tab for the welfare program.
Overman’s proposed budget, which wasn’t adopted Wednesday, includes a $1.3 million county expenditure for Medicaid.
Commissioners discussed not adopting a budget — interim or final — until June 30, the last day state law allows counties to adopt spending plans.
The board discussed briefly recessing Wednesday’s meeting without an adopted budget, but later it shifted gears and approved Overman’s interim budget with the understanding that if the state approved a budget by June 30, the commissioners would convene on Saturday to adopt a final budget based on the relief the county would realize.
During Wednesday’s budget deliberations, Overman laid out three options for the commissioners to act on.
The interim budget option won unanimous approval from commissioners.
Overman said the commissioners could have also made revisions to the budget proposal and adopted the revised spending plan or adopt the budget as presented — with the anticipation of $1.1 million in Medicaid relief fixed into the plan. Overman did not recommend that option.
Hurst said adopting a budget would put county departments and the Martin County Schools in a bad situation.
The interim budget maintains the current property tax rate, but does not set it.
According to state law, the tax rate must be set no later than Aug. 1.
By adopting an interim budget, the county is able to pay salaries to all current employees, any current debts and the “usual and ordinary operating expenses” of the county.
Overman said the county would be operating “as bare bones as we can” until a final budget is approved and adopted.
The county’s current tax rate is 78.5 cents per $100 valuation. That means the owner of a $100,000 house pays $785 in property taxes on that house.
Commissioners expressed a commitment to find other budget-balancing solutions outside of raising taxes if the state does not provide Medicaid relief.
Overman told commissioners the absence of that relief would result in a $1.5 million gap “that has to be closed in any number of ways.”
That gap, he said, can be closed by cutting services or increasing revenues.
Hurst added commissioners would not be cutting services the county had budgeted for in the current fiscal year, which ends Saturday. The cuts would come out of the projected increases proposed for the upcoming fiscal year.